Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET, is one of the most common plastics in the world, used to make soda bottles and food containers, among others. Now, the world’s largest producer of PET has announced a plan to triple its plastic recycling operations, a goal that could help tackle plastic pollution across the world.
PET manufacturer Indorama Ventures, based in Thailand, has been on a shopping spree in recent years. They’ve purchased and expanded several companies recycle PET, aiming to grow its recycling capacity from the current 250,000 tons to 750,000 in 2025. The goal is for recycled materials to account for 20% of the four million tons of PET produced per year.
The company has become so big that it now produces one in five PET bottles in the world. It began making PET in 1995 and has scaled up production since then, currently managing 121 factories across 33 countries. It has recently purchased factories in the US, France, Brazil, and Poland, among other countries, so there’s no sign of slowing down.
Consumers worldwide buy billions of plastic drink bottles a year. Although most of these are made from highly recyclable PET, only 14% are ever actually recycled. The rest end up in landfills or our rivers and seas, where they can take up to 50 years to degrade, creating a serious environmental problem.
Recycled PET is more expensive, but Indorama believes the global trend of reducing plastic will give it a tailwind, and consumer awareness can also help. The company is already signing partnerships with its suppliers to move ahead with its plan. It has formed a joint venture with Coca-Cola in the Philippines to build a bottle recycling plant next year.
In a statement, Indorama highlighted the difficulties of further recycling in Southeast Asia, mainly because of the lack of sorting and collecting plastic bottles and containers. Still, the company said community educational programs can help in that regard, mentioning recent examples with school programs.
Southeast Asia is by far one of the largest contributions to land-based plastic waste leaking into the world’s oceans. More than half comes from four nations: Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand, alongside China, the main single polluter. The growing demand for consumer products has led to an increase in plastic waste.
The problem has worsened following China’s decision to ban waste imports from 2018 onwards, including plastic. This has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the United States scrambling for alternatives, which have mainly been other Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam — but this isn’t a long-term solution for anyone.
In a recent report, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said the region, home to 641 million people across 10 countries, should introduce region-wide policies to regulate plastic packaging. Thailand has already taken the first step, recently announcing it will ban most single-use plastics next year.
Worldwide, around eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, according to UNEP estimations. Whales and sea turtles have been found dead in the region in recent years with large amounts of plastic rubbish in their stomachs.